Relating life cycle assessment indicators to gross value added for Dutch dairy farms

M.A. Thomassen, M.A. Dolman, K.J. van Calker, I.J.M. de Boer

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Sustainable dairy production requires farms that are economically viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. A low environmental impact of milk production is not necessarily associated with an economically viable farm. To gain insight into a possible “trade-off” between economic and environmental sustainability, the relation between the environmental and economic indicators of dairy farms was quantified, and farm characteristics that influence this relation were identified. Economic and environmental indicators were quantified for 119 specialized dairy farms in 2005, based on data from the Dutch Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN). Economic indicators used were: gross value added expressed per kg fat-and-protein-corrected milk (FPCM) or expressed per unit of labour, i.e. labour productivity. Environmental indicators used were: land use per kg FPCM, energy use per kg FPCM, global warming potential per kg FPCM, eutrophication and acidification potential per kg FPCM or per ha of land. Environmental indicators were deduced from a life cycle assessment. High labour productivity on dairy farms was associated with low on-farm energy use, total and on-farm land use, total and on-farm global warming potential, and total and off-farm acidification potential per kg FPCM. High labour productivity, however, was associated also with high on-farm eutrophication and acidification potential per hectare. From partial least squares regression analysis, it was concluded that relations between economic and environmental indicators were affected mainly by milk production per ha, annual milk production per cow, farm size, and amount of concentrates per kg FPCM. An increase in annual milk production per cow, for example, not only increased labour productivity, reduced energy use and global warming potential per kg FPCM but also, in the case of an unchanged stocking density, increased eutrophication and acidification per ha. To be economically and environmentally sustainable, animal production in the Netherlands, therefore, should focus on high animal productivity, i.e. high annual milk production per cow and efficient use of feed per kg milk, and moderate stocking density, provided that a good animal welfare standard is guaranteed
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2278-2284
JournalEcological Economics
Issue number8-9
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • milk-production
  • production systems
  • assessment lca
  • sustainability
  • management
  • netherlands
  • emissions
  • impact
  • tools
  • model


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